My team is considering switching to SolidWorks from OnShape/Fusion 360. I’ve browsed through other cad discussion threads but most of the focus seemed to be on Inventor and Onshape. What are the pros and cons of using SolidWorks for FRC? How’s the learning curve? What’s the version control like? Any insight is greatly appreciated.
SolidWorks is a great tool in used a lot in industry. I think that would be the only reason I might consider going to it is because it is used so often in industry. It has been a few years since I have used it, but I believe it is limited on version control and sharing with its base install. GrabCad used to help with that but as I understand that is no longer an option.
It is much better option if you have limited or no internet connectivity.
To me it is hard to beat OnShape for FRC due to the ability to work on any browser without loading any software, version control, custom featurescripts, and sharing between users.
I will preface all of this by saying that SOLIDWORKS is my preferred CAD program. (I have a background in Inventor, SW, Fusion 360 (CAM only), Catia, and NX)
One of the best things SOLIDWORKS does is assemblies. You can edit parts in an assembly super easy, the constraints are straight forward, you can move parts around just by simply clicking and dragging them, and the list goes on.
If CAM is an important thing for you SW does have this, but, I will say it’s not quite as good as the CAM in Fusion 360.
SOLIDWORKS PDM is also a great feature. You can work on stuff without breaking anything if you somehow make a mistake somewhere. Every time you save and check in something it is stored as a version number. You can go as far back as you want in versions. My personal opinion is that it’s better than GrabCad because 1 GrabCad is going away and 2 you don’t have to upload and download something every time you want to work on it.
One Con with PDM, you have to remember that you have to check stuff in when you are done making actual changes. Otherwise, no one else can view or edit the current version of the file.
Another note. Any files from older versions of SW will open in a newer version and so long as you don’t save it in the newer version, the older version can still work on the file. You cannot open newer SW version files in older SW versions.
As for a learning curve, I picked up SW really quickly coming from using Inventor gag in middle school.
I personally prefer SW to onshape as well. But that’s another very long post for another day if at all.
Such a move would be going in the opposite direction of many teams in FRC, especially this year, as GrabCAD is going away this summer and teams have been struggling to find a viable alternative for free easy SolidWorks collaboration across the internet (and thus are planning transitions from SolidWorks to OnShape). See this thread: GrabCAD is Shutting Down their Workbench
As far as I know there’s no FRC community SolidWorks equivalent to the excellent OnShape MKcad library and featurescripts.
Another downside of SolidWorks is it tends to be pretty unstable (lots of crashes), particularly with non-professional graphics cards.
The main upside I can think of (and area where Onshape feels lacking) is CAM integration.
I’m joining the consensus here…probably because when you say “Solidworks” all of the pro-SW people come out.
I use it everyday to design trucks. I’ve used Inventor and Catia and Mechanical Desktop before those, but I think SW is the best so far. Not experienced so much in Fusion or On Shape.
But in our robot team, we use Inventor because the licensing is easier.
We used OnShape when we were meeting remotely in 2020/21, but other than that we are a SolidWorks team (and my personal original background is AutoCAD). I find all of these to have all of the basic functions an FRC team would need, and they are all similar, yet have their subtle naming and menu differences (which makes going back and forth somewhat challenging [at least for me]).
I would concur that assemblies are where SolidWorks shines and collaboration is where OnShape shines. The other advantage of OnShape is you can do it on pretty much any computer with a web browser whereas SolidWorks is PC only (and its a dog on underpowered PCs).
The main reason we use SolidWorks is it is the industry leader and giving that experience to our students is important to us.
I have worked with both SolidWorks and AutoCAD since 2013. As of last year, I only work with SolidWorks for my company. As a sponsor who worked with our local school (Chelsea, MI: Team 1502, Technical Difficulties), I tried to be helpful with the kids in OnShape, but I did not have time to relearn a new software and hoped there were some parallel process paths to identify. I honestly dislike OnShape and do not know why FRC made this the CAD software of choice. Well, ok, its because it’s cheap. I am not sure if it is a parametric-based software or if it functions more like AutoCAD, but it seems to be somewhere between SketchUp and AutoCAD. I have never worked with Fusion 360 in AutoCAD so I cannot speak to that. Honestly, speaking as a taxpayer, if we are trying to raise the next generation of designers and engineers, we should provide them with real trusted engineering software, and not some flash-in-the-pan software that will not translate well to getting a job out of HS. What many do not realize, is that many of our high schoolers getting ready to graduate are not sold on getting a degree because they are not sure what discipline they want to go into, or if they need a degree for what they want to do. The reality is that they can go an get some short training and certs during their summers before graduating HS and get a job doing CAD design. It is a good-paying career path entry for any young adult with a designer or engineering inclination. Why not give them the experience in a known industry software that will translate now instead of providing software that will only be confusing to switch from? Ok, I am getting off my soapbox now.
We use solidworks for our team and I love it, it is one of the most powerful cad platforms and works really well for us. While it takes a little while to learn everything it is a cad platform that is widely used in industry and probably better to learn, basic stuff is pretty easy to learn quickly. We are migrating the the 3d experience platform for file sharing. As far as stability I have not had any issues even on my underpowered laptop. I would highly recommend it.
I don’t have the most experience using SolidWorks(~2years), but after using inventor for 6 years in high school / FRC I found the transition very easy.
my personal favourite feature that SolidWorks does better than Inventor is the part properties (vendor, part number, price ect.) and the McMasterCarr add-in is a bonus.
onshape better (i personally prefer it but solid works is probably better honestly)
Stay with Onshape.
I love Solidworks and for work or personal projects Solidworks is my go to CAD tool. However for FRC Solidworks has some major down sides. Specifically: requires installation on computers and has no built in file/version management. Solidworks PDM does do the file management but it is not as deeply integrated as Onshape/fusion 360.
That is not say Onshape is perfect, Onshape’s assembly tools are bad, joints encourage lazy design, the Onshape’s Sketcher is janky and missing key features (path length dimensions) and Onshape’s overall performance is slow. But the fact that any computer in your school can run Onshape and no files will be lost or overwritten mid season is Onshape’s killer feature.
ps. @RickyRobot yes despite this commentary I will continue to complain about Onshape’s shortcomings.
Jumping on the pro-Solidworks bandwagon. Its an industry standard cad software used by the majority of companies I work with as a consulting Mechanical engineer. I have found it to be more user friendly than other software I have used (autoCAD, Inventor, Fusion360, NX). Internet is not required for use (extremely important given my build space’s very poor internet). McMaster has native Solidworks files for most parts you might want to bring into CAD (also the add-in, but i have never used that).
File sharing is the biggest issue, Bild is good when its not buggy (getting better all the time), GrabCAD isn’t really an option any more, Solidworks PDM would be amazing for FRC but would be a nightmare to setup. I have never used 3dxeperience because when I have looked into it seems like its trying to be everything to everyone and I just want a simple file management system.
If you can get setup with solidworks, I think it is the best option for FRC, and all you need is Windows computers with at least a 10th gen i5 and 8gb of ram. (I haven’t had a discrete graphics card in my last 3 CAD computers for work or robots.)
Soildworks is great, easily my favorite CAD software, but unless your school/team has an already setup PDM software and powerful laptops for students, it’s hard to justify in a team setting. So, I agree with the others and recommend using Onshape, as it’s collaborative features and browser based client out weight it’s limitations for most FRC teams.
Could you elaborate on the part properties feature? I don’t think I’ve encountered that kind of feature before. Do you assign data about vendor/price/part number to each part or does it come with imported parts?
you have to assign the part properties to each part
I created this Property template myself,
the vendor is a list of different vendors i use
Some general advice on any CAD software switch:
- What do you anticipate you will be gaining from the switch?
- Do the resources (tutorials, training plans, parts library, whatever) that you expect to exist from your prior software exist in your new choice? If not do you have a plan to make up for that?
- Is the team bought into this decision or is it only a few people? Does this matter for your team (if your goals are more students involved in CAD, your choices may be different than a team that doesn’t mind only a few students or mentors doing most of the CAD)?
- How are other important workflows (eg, CAM, PDM, rendering) handled with the new software?
- Have you actually used the alternate software, or are you just assuming it will solve whatever your problems are with your original software?
I’m a firm believer that a team can make most available CAD software work for FRC, but there are options that are significantly easier to make work than others. Thinking about CAD as a core part of the experience you are creating on your team, and how that affects the other parts of the team, is an important thing to do when considering changes to your CAD software.
From my experience in leading a design team, I’ve learned one VERY important thing:
What’s best for you might not be best for a team.
I’ve used everything from SolidWorks (my preference) to Fusion to Autodesk Inventor to Onshape, even Lego Digital Designer (those of you from FLL background know what I’m talking about). I can make parts in almost any software, and it’s taken me at MOST 1 week to learn the controls and tools to a point that I feel comfortable working without getting stuck.
However, the reason our team switched to Onshape a couple of years ago is because of working as a design team. As a lead, having to check in on other team members, modify assemblies, sign drawings digitally, etc is infinitely more difficult over GrabCAD than a cloud-based (and even more so browser-based) solution. I don’t believe in the notion that you can’t make a good robot without a certain type of software, but I know from experience that the best software for a team will be whatever allows you to collaborate the most efficiently.
There’s some excellent advice above about thinking through the “why” and “how” for your team specifically.
A couple of years ago we went the other direction, SolidWorks to OnShape, mostly for practical reasons. For us, some of the main drivers were:
- Our students generally prefer to do CAD on their own laptops, most of which are typical student-grade machines. It was difficult to get SolidWorks to work well on these. Even on my relatively beefy laptop, with discrete graphics and 4x the memory of a typical student machine, SolidWorks constantly complained about not having enough resources.
- We have some machines at the shop that could run SolidWorks, but we don’t have the budget to be constantly keeping those up-to-date, and CAD “only at the shop” on a small number of PCs severely limits students’ ability to work anyway.
- The need for local installs and licensing was a PITA to manage, too.
- OnShape’s first-class sharing and cloud based storage is great. Multiple students and mentors can work simultaneously. Mentors can look at what students are doing in real time. No data gets lost because of a power outage. Pull up the CAD on any computer. It’s easy to share CAD as part of Open Alliance. These are all big pluses.
No tool is perfect and I’m sure our expert CAD mentors can point out specific things they don’t like about OnShape, too. But overall it has worked for us and keeps getting better. Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for your team.
Regarding the comments about “it’s what industry uses” - I view CAD like programming languages. 90% of it is learning the concepts, the specific tool (or language) is secondary. Just like learning your 2nd/3rd/4th programming language is way easier than your first, once you’ve got a foundational knowledge of CAD from whatever program you started with, you’ll be able to pick up the next tool much more readily.
Last year I was also thinking through the SOLIDWORKS vs Onshape decision. I did a quick search on Indeed for jobs in my area and found 350 from the key word “SOLIDWORKS” and zero for the keyword “Onshape”. That had a big impact on my teams decision.
For training, we used SolidProfessor, which provides free memberships to the FIRST community, and found it to be good.
The downside, as many have mentioned, is the file management. We’ve been using GrabCAD, but will need to find an alternative next year.